5th February 2011. Photo by Sean Anderson.

Free Hetherington Votes to End Occupation

5th February 2011. Photo by Sean Anderson.

The Free Hetherington voted yesterday on a motion to accept the terms offered by University Management and end the occupation of 13 University Gardens. The vote was held as a result of negotiations between the Occupation and the University Management that have taken place over the past few weeks.

The terms offered by the University were summarised during the meeting and include:

  • No current plans for further course cuts.
  • No compulsory redundancies in the areas reviewed by the consultation panels earlier this year.
  • No disciplinary repercussions for those involved in the Occupation.
  • An agreement from Management not to volunteer information about occupiers to the Police.
  • The opening of a new postgraduate social space during academic session 2011/12.

The debate to accept or reject the proposals heard a range of views: from those suggesting that the University’s terms represented a series of promises that “they [the University] were going to do anyway”, to those that argued the terms were “huge wins” for the Occupation. Others argued that the Occupation was no longer viable as the numbers occupying the building had dropped to dangerously low levels; in recent weeks with only one person in the building at times.  Despite this difference of views, a consensus seemed to emerge early on in the discussion, described by one occupier as “the building is not the movement”.

Votes in favour of the motion seemed less to do with achievement and acceptance of the above concessions with University Management, and more to do with an acceptance of the Occupation’s lack of viability. One occupier warned against “fetishising” the building and suggested it  had become “a drain on movement”.

The vote in favour of exit was passed with a simple majority: 58 to 9. As the results were read out a wave of relief and jubilation swept the meeting. A number of speakers made heartfelt speeches about the what they had learnt from the Free Hetherington and what they believed the group had achieved. One Occupier even offered discounted ‘HRC’ tattoos to commemorate the Occupation. The meeting closed to rounds of applause. Tom from the Occupation said “After 6 months hard fought battle, […] today marks the legitimisation of active protest against austerity and cuts“ he also reiterated the groups intention to “keep protesting to support the right of students and future students to have equality and free education.”

However, others present wanted to strike a less triumphant tone. Sybil, 35, a postgraduate student, emphasised that some of their larger concerns had not been met by Management:

While what we have achieved is fantastic, the communities of Dumfries and Galloway are still losing their only higher education humanities faculty, the Crichton Campus’ Liberal Arts degree […] I am sad that we didn’t fight to at least open an inquiry into the illegitimacy of the [consultation] process.

-Sybil from the Occupation.

In terms of real gains it could be argued that the Principal had already confirmed a number of the terms offered before negotiations with the Free Hetherington even began. In an email to staff in June, the Principal announced that the University had “turned around” its finances and was forecasting a surplus over the next three years.

Although the University has promised no compulsory redundancies in the areas reviewed during the consultation process earlier this year, they didn’t rule this out in other areas of the University. In addition to this the voluntary severance scheme has been extended and some vacant positions are deliberately not being filled to save staff costs.

The new postgraduate social space mentioned in the University’s proposal will utilise space in the main building currently used by 1A the Square and the telephony room. Plans for the space are still to be finalised, however these include catering and licensed bar facilities open to staff and postgraduate students. The Students’ Representative Council will oversee the management of the space with support from Hospitality Services and the Senior Management Group.

The final details of how and when the Occupiers will leave 13 University Gardens are still to be finalised with University Management, however it is expected to happen within the next fortnight and well before Freshers’ Week.


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I am actually quite disgusted at the self congratulatory way in which the occupiers have handled their finale. I was not involved in the occupation and did support it for a while, and study in one of the threatened departments. They claim to have achieved a victory, but how and for who remains unclear. Courses are still being cut and people may loose their jobs.

These points which they have agreed with management are entirely without substance. My understanding is that they were assured there will be no course cuts and no jobs losses ‘in the near future’. What does that even mean? Court went against the wishes of the senate when it voted to close Slavonic Studies. If court have shown a willingness to overlook the views of senate – a body comprised of hundreds of senior academics – to think that an ambiguous agreement with an informal group of students would have any kind of influence is downright delusional. They have been duped.

If they wanted to negotiate an end to the occupation then fine. But portraying this as some kind of victory is grossly misleading, and overshadows the fact that course are still being cut, and people may still loose their jobs.



Do you think the delegates of the occupation, present at the meeting with SMG, didn’t present these conditions to the wider group, which came under the scrutiny of everyone there? Of course people had the same things as you did to say about the terms offered by management. Of course some of us thought they were somewhat weak. Do you really think that having the HRC building makes a difference to whether or not Slavonics is saved? The anti-cuts movement at the university is still thriving, and as far as I’m aware, you’re a part of that. The fact that SMG have made loose promises not to cut any departments makes little difference to me – I know them to be untrustworthy at best – and if they continue to make cuts in the future, we will stand up against it, just as we have this time. Do you really, honestly, think that SMG can promise that they will make no cuts at all in the university, no redundancies whatsoever, ever again? That’s not only improbable, but it’d show them up terribly when it did happen.

This is a victory for those in the anti-cuts movement. It’s been 6 long months of organising demonstrations and group talks on how best to deal with the cuts, and anyone from outside the HRC should be able to take confidence in the knowledge that direct action works, that protest works. Whether you agree with the occupation or not, it’d be silly of you to downplay that, knowing full well that, for all the letters we wrote, for all the meetings we had with senior teachers and SMG themselves, there was very little in the way of promising results.

The point is that we have these assurances, and these concessions from SMG. The building will now be converted to lecture space for the use of staff and students. Then if these assurances are broken, we will have many people to call on in order to make sure that SMG are held accountable.

Nobody has been duped.

As for our department, most of the languages have been saved, when initially we thought we might be left only with two. I’d say the pressure we put on SMG not to cut them was a significant factor in that. I hope you feel proud of that, despite being upset about Slavonics.



Hi Amy,

its a shame you feel that way, because everyone involved is horrified at the closures to Slavonics / Liberal Arts. For me personally it is devastating that Slavonics might close – a University without that sort of unique and specialized departments is not the sort of place I want to learn / teach. But I don’t think its right to blame the occupation for failing to stop these! Its still management’s fault. This article shows that there is still work to do, and the occupation’s own press does, I believe, say that there is more to do. However, after 6 months of trouble, surely it is okay to make something of the things that were achieved?

People may lose their jobs, but some won’t. Courses will be cut in the future, but less than if there was no resistance. It is a long fight: that doesn’t mean that in this case the SMG of Glasgow Uni have been shaken.

I agree Senate is the place to play out these arguments – but management aren’t listening. Maybe if Senate marched on the offices of the SMG, we’d see more movement. When democracy has been stripped from the structures we are allowed to work with, you need other tactics.


In no way was I blaming the occupation for not stopping the cuts.

I agree with comments below that the occupation had a number of successes – it got people talking, debating, raised the profile of the cuts and created a genuinely student owned and operated space, to name but a few. All very admirable.

So celebrate the victories, not this hollow agreement that there will be ‘no more cuts or redundancies in the near future.’ I gather from comments above that no one involved in the negotiations believes this will be followed through on.

It’s statements like ‘Students at the University of Glasgow occupation are celebrating this week after Principal Anton Muscatelli conceded defeat in his attempt to impose swingeing cuts on the University.’, from the FH’s wordpress – that I find distasteful when cuts and redundancies continue.

This potemkin victory has also created a front for cuts still going on – It has now been spread throughout Scottish and national press that Glasgow University’s senior management has agreed to no cuts and redundancies in the near future. Thus appearing to resolve the situation and taking the media heat off them. Even corporate comms couldn’t manage that.

Andrius Rudeičiukas

new website looks awesome but missing one thing – there is no information who’s the author of article 🙁

Glasgow Guardian Editors

It’s a straight news piece, collaboratively written by two of the editors. Bit of an open question on whether to name the authors in this case.

As you asked though, it was Michael Comerford and myself, Sean Anderson.


Although I wouldn’t say I’m disgusted at the way it’s being portrayed as a victory – most protests usually end up with the protesters claiming a victory, whether they get one or not – I tend to agree with Amy on the substance of all this. The promise on course cuts, as described, doesn’t seem to change much. I don’t see how we can make grandiose statements like “Principal Anton Muscatelli conceded defeat in his attempt to impose swingeing cuts on the University” when many of the cuts they were protesting about are still happening, Any “u-turn” just strikes me as the kind of acceptable concessions the university would always have been willing to make to push this through, such as the temporary reprieve for Nursing (changes nothing long term, but makes it look like the university takes opinions on board).

The only genuine concession as far as I’m concerned is the postgraduate club. If that’s the net effect of the protest then fair enough – I’m glad that we will be having a proper postgraduate social space again.


Hey Dean,

you’re not wrong. Many of the cuts are still happening. But look at the difference at Strathclyde Uni. They announced cuts, minor protests happened. All cuts were passed. At Glasgow Uni: Cuts announced, massive protests including Uni management using violence, more than 50% cuts do not happen.

This was not just the work of the occupation. DACE, SMLC, Dumfries, Nursing, all did what amounts to more important leg-work in terms of research, making arguments etc. The Free Hetherington played into the community aspect, and kept a high news profile that surely forced management to look on the consultation with far more detail.

Most protests usually end with claims of a victory, which is usually “we have learnt a lot and live to fight another day.” In this circumstance, however, it has led to a significant and public management backdown. You don’t see GU claiming victory do you?

The University has all the power, the students have none. Unless they do things like this.

Norman Gray

There are victories here, sure enough.

The occupation hasn’t achieved its more flamboyant ‘demands’, but I doubt many folk seriously thought they would or could. Speaking for myself, I didn’t think the occupation would amount to very much at all, beyond perhaps a week’s on-campus entertainment back in February. And now, six months later, look where we are.

The occupation has helped keep the cuts visible on-campus and in the news; it’s displayed imaginative ways of protesting and of using the building; by deliberately widening participation in the occupation it’s reminded people that the University professes an engagement with the surrounding community which it doesn’t always live up to; it’s made the campus visibly vibrant and disputational (which Corporate Communications, if they have any wit, will brandish as being exactly how a university should be); and it’s kept live the issue of the shut-down postgraduate club, helping maintain the pressure for a replacement. It’s been educational for both the occupiers and the University, working out how best to deal with this situation, and making illuminating mistakes along the way.

People, in summary, have _cared_ about the occupation, either supporting or criticising it, and not everything the University does manages that level of interest.

Or — another way of thinking about it — list to yourself all the ways this _could_ have gone, starting from February, and note how many of them are whimpers or disasters: the Occupation looks pretty successful from that point of view.

Oh, and they’re still the longest-running occupation in the country — simply being there for six months is a sort of victory.

So they’ve negotiated an end — that’s politics. The University probably got most of its red-line items, and I suspect the Occupation got many of theirs. The occupiers’ negotiators have played what was becoming a weak hand, and played it very well.